I Forgot About These Albums

Dude you are wack
Do I look seductive in this photo?

Yo! You know, I can’t believe I forgot to include these two albums in my list of the years best stuff. Here’s my final word:

Morrissey: Years of Refusal

Not the man’s best, but this man is still the best

Jay Z: The Blueprint III

Not the man’s best, but this man is still the best

This year, I liked some recordings, I found a lot of new stuff inspiring, but I hardly listened and relistened to anything. However, this is not true for either of the above-noted recordings. I listened to these albums all the damn time, but they aren’t new and flashy, so I forgot that they existed. In many ways, Jay Z and Morrissey are similar dudes. Both are megastars who are the defacto musical representatives of their nations. Jay Z’s King of New York Music thing is obviously a more self-conscious construction, but that doesn’t mean he is any less than one of our biggest, most significant stars, someone who skillfully uses American archetypes to make a great American myth, showing us Rags To Riches 2.0, making blueprints for how shit gets done, etc. He also claims that he made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can. What is a Yankee can? What am I not getting here? Whatevs, though, Jigga is the elder statesman of America’s most relevant musical/cultural product: hip hop.

Likewise, Moz is so British. But I will let one of the queen’s own argue that.

Tim Lott for The Guardian once noted in a great article about the Moz’s lyrics:

Also, the sentiments of Morrissey… were English sentiments. This poet – for it was clear that he was a poet – had the knack of taking the national experience as well as the national mindset and rendering it both visible and valuable. Until Morrissey wrote about fairgrounds, and Shelagh Delaney, and grey provincial towns, they were just there, part of the background hum(drum), hardly to be treasured or noticed at all. They were all of a piece with the generalised self … hatred and obliviousness that pervaded much of England in the 1980s as Margaret Thatcher drove the nation into two opposing, glowering camps.

Word.

Best of 2009 albums: take with grain of salt, this year kinda sucked

This year I was pretty consistent with this music blog, so if any of you read it, or if any of you know me, you will likely know my favorite albums of the year. Henceforth I will just make a list of my favorite albums, and in lieu of providing long descriptions, which come easy to me, I will assign one phrase/sentence per album to sum it all up.

The-Dream: Love vs Money

Brilliant, lush antidote to T-Pain production hegemony

Bat For Lashes: Two Suns

The pale English sun doth an imaginative, sensual & elfin musical genius make, again–just ask Kate Bush.

Mos Def: The Ecstatic

Spit fire, diverse beats, acrobatics from Brooklyn Globe Trotter

Micachu & The Shapes: Jewellry

THIS is the shape of punk music 2009–Dadaism and collage combine with a pop penchant for melody

Bassment Jaxx: Scars

Playful, emotive maximalism; dance to it, cry to it, hope to it

St. Vincent: Actor

Composure, well composed

Kid Sister: Ultraviolet

Joyful, jokey girl-next-door runs gamut from juke to house, proving Chicago know how to party

Raekwon: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx: Part II

When in doubt, return to 1995

Wale: Attention Deficit

Lacking personality? Maybe. Lacking listen-ability? No. Dude got potential? Yes.

Now let me say this: what was 2009? A year of disappointments.

Yet Another Response in Hypocrite Listener vs Daftpop Showdown

Hey Nige,

Thanks for the song-by-song analysis! You poked holes in all the right places, I admit. “Throw It In The Bag” is a throwaway track, but a very enjoyable one! And yeah, why didn’t they give Beyonce real strings on “Halo”? Word. I still stand by “Freaky Freaky”–did you hear those descending staccato “oh oh oh ohs” on the hook? They would not have been out of place in a Puccini aria d’amore.

I tried to make a playlist of your songs to stream here at work, but “Girls” + “Laura” + “Album” do not a googleable set make, alone or together, so I still haven’t heard that one. I also couldn’t find the Kurt Vile song–apparently he’s too obscure for myspace.

But otherwise, I got to hear your tunes. Boy! Everything is so ’60s these days. And weirder, several of your songs feature early ’70s slightly psychedelic/slightly meedly-meedly guitar solos.

Dirty Projectors: “Cannibal Resource”

I saw this band a couple years ago–not even sure they’d released an LP yet at the time. I’d never heard of them and did not know what to expect. Then this Brooklyn ganglemeister gets on stage, looking like he hadn’t seen a shower or plate of food in days, and sings his fucking lungs out.  I was like, “Damn, what is this?” There were trumpets. Rhythms unfamiliar to my sheltered ears. Harmonies. Unfortunately, the back-up gals looked totally bored, but at least they weren’t as obviously bored as the band who opened for them–this little band Vampire Weekend, ever heard of them? Vampire Weekend actually said, “So, what do you guys do out here in Indiana?” SERIOUSLY, fuck those dudes. Anyway. Next time I heard about the Dirty Projectors, one of my avant-jazz buddies was seeing them out in NYC. Again, I was like, “Damn.” This band does what bands should do: they challenge our idea of genre and create something new and amazing we never imagined could exist. Even avant-jazz people agree.

Flashy Python: “Skin and Bones”

What the hell? This song is sooo ’70s. At first, a ramshackle Pavement-like guitar and bass stumble onto the scene. And then we hear a Robert Plant caterwaul in the background. I got to say, CYHSY guy’s voice is a little unpleasant to me, though he sure is effective. And this song kinda meanders, just like a ’70s psychedelic rock song. I love the guitar solos at the end–they are hilarious and pretty exhilarating, but why is dude singing over them? This is a very loose analogy: it’s like CYHSY guy is the Moz on the Smith’s first album: he doesn’t know when to shut up and let the Johnny Marr speak for himself. He still has time to learn, though, and maybe CYHSY guy will have a long and fruitful solo career. And maybe Flasy Python’s cock rock guitarist will become the most famed indie guitarist of all, and later join Modest Mouse. Like I said, loose analogy.

Atlas Sound feat. Noah “Walkabout”

Another strong aesthetic decision: all jingle, Beach Boys, Kinks, reverby vocals washed under a shimmery guitar. To remind you it is not 1963, the dudes add some weird crackly shit. This song would be in the background when you’re drunk, spinning around a room, staring at the ceiling, beer still in hand. And in that it makes me slightly dizzy, even if it feels fun and exciting at the time.

Grizzly Bear: “While You Wait For the Others”

Why isn’t the guy from “Two Weeks” singing on this song? I just really, really don’t like this person’s voice. It’s so weak and flimsy, not robust and sweet like the main singer on “Two Weeks.” But the voice only really grates for the minimalist portion of the song, and then this song builds into a great sorta Nashville or even bluesy swagger. Then it retreats. Sure, I feel the tension, but why can’t the whole song be as great as the swagger part? However, the waiting really pays off: in a Dirty Projectors-esque breakdown, the voices echo and dissolve into a swooping, glorious release. Okay, so this song is awesome, but you saw me resisting for a while. Thanks for making me wait to hear another great Grizzly Bear track.

The Smith Westerns: “Imagine Pt 3”

Seeing the title of this song, I was obviously reminded of John Lennon. Well, this song is no “Imagine,” but, um, is that Ringo Starr on the drums? The strings, the lighthearted, rhyming lyrics about love–this song pieces together several Beatles eras, but not in a schlocky or obvious way: there’s some psychedelia and lofi stuff sprinkled on top. And we all know that even in their shaggy, early ’70s days, no self-respecting Beatle would let their pristine melodies get buried under fuzz. The best part of this song is that glorious breakdown at the end. It feels like a coda at the end of an epic. It feels like the triumphant exhale of a warrior after battle. Or it just feels like some high school kids swept by the power of rock n roll, too young to be jaded and cold like so many indie rockers. Keep it up, guys.

Flaming Lips: Silver Trembling Hands

Things change, things stay the same: kind of like the Flaming Lips, who I have not thought about since 2003. It seems things aren’t so different from what I remember. You know? I just don’t care for anything psychedelic. Or maybe I can only handle it in small doses. But when someone is singing “when she’s high…” that’s when I’m like, “Next song, yo.” But it’s hardly fair to say, “Dude, sorry, not a fan of the ‘Lips.” This song has urgency, tension, textural variety…yeah. I just won’t go back to listen to it very often.

Animal Collective: Brother Sport

Me and Jeff used to make fun of this song a lot. I mean, AC was kind of asking for it with the whole Austrian boys folk chorus thing. BUT! That said, this song shocked me the first time I heard it–so nerdy, so silly. (I think shock upon a first listen is always a good thing.) I am also shocked that this band is the hottest shit indie band ever, because they are extremely unhip in their passion for melody and earnestness.  The truth of it is, AC are a bunch of composers, and this song is the finale to their ultimate musical. Notably, musicals are not cool, and I don’t think AC are cool either, but a bunch of invested music nerds who go where their heart decides. That is a good thing.

Yo Nige–this was TOO much fun! I admit, I felt totally constrained making a playlist with NOTHING indie on it. This year I listened to lots of singles–less so albums–but even so, I couldn’t make a complete, well rounded playlist without being tempted by Bat For Lashes, or Annie, or even…Wavves. (I like Wavvvvves more than I’ve ever let on!)

Thank you for introducing me to these bands! I will have to respond to your theories about varieties in production another time. My brain is so tired.

Hypocrite Listener vs Daftpop Music Showdown

To Hypocrite Listener: Like all haterisms, hating hipsters sure gets old. I agree. What I’ve tried to convey is my boredom with the whole dismissive irony of some of the men making music in this genre. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the woman part of me feels left out from this entirely dude-ly genre. Trend-spotters have identified hipster style as gender-ambiguous, but I’d say it’s really more like women are dressing like men. I will be satisfied when men mix flannel with skirts and eyeliner. Anyway! Men are still the majority of music critics, the music makers, and the people at shows. And fo’ sho’, a majority of men present in a scene does not mean said scene is evil. But it does mean that I feel left out and will look elsewhere for a more colorful, various backdrop for my interests.

But, Anna! I can almost hear my detractors say: what about them women in the Dirty Projectors, what about Annie Clark and Natasha Khan? Yar, yar, yar: I agree and am very excited by the music they make. Also, for the record, I think the Dirty Projectors are totally, unequivocally awesome.

But besides the grievances I carry on behalf of my sex, Nige, I am probably more on your side than it seems. I get pissed too when people diss “hipsters” who live in our hoods. And I see that just by having a music blog, attending Pitchfork’s festival this summer, and owning a pair of black skinny jeans, I am clearly taking part in this massive subculture–as you pointed out, this subculture is a force that pretty much defines our generation. But I think it’s important to forever keep an eye on how this subculture bizness develops, what it includes, and what it leaves out. I think you’d agree with me on that.

But everything I’ve said so far makes it seem like taste is a conscious decision. In many ways, it is. But I’ve been bothered for a long time about the mystery of personal preference, especially when it comes to music taste. Can I tell you that you need to like T-Pain? Yes. But can I actually make you like him? No. Same goes for someone like Grizzly Bear. I can appreciate what the band is doing but still be totally bored by soft, mid-tempo acoustic songwriting. This might seem an evasive thing to say, because I am essentially acknowledging that even if we argue all day about the merits or demerits of T-Pain and Grizzly Bear, my ill-drawn pseudo-scientific theory about personal preference trumps all. Critics use ideas and objective material to discuss art; subjective likes and dislikes shouldn’t be an excuse. But at the same time, does not music possess mystical and intangible properties? We do our best to qualify all its empirical qualities, but still, the reason some songs sound awesome evades all logic. And besides, if all of art could be neatly codified into good and bad, wouldn’t it be something other than art?

Another note, for another blog post–I didn’t like 2009. It was a desert for good music no matter the genre. It was so bad, some people even postulated hip hop was dead. Maybe it’s all dying, or it’s just end-of-naughties fatigue.

Anyway, you may not prefer to listen to any of these songs, but perhaps you can appreciate them.

THE PLAYLIST IS LINKED HERE

Here they are, in no particular order:

–Beyonce: “Halo” and “Single Ladies”

There are few stars that I would indulge a double album showcasing the two sides of their persona. But Beyonce endlessly fascinates; she’s reserved, classy and a great old fashioned star, akin to Diana Ross, but with better pipes. Though I’ve seen her bare most body parts, B retains mystery and tact when overexposure is the norm. But more important than her persona is her voice. The brassy sass of “Single Ladies,” is all the more impressive heard in the context of “Halo.” Turns out, I need both sides of B’s coin. “Single Ladies,” which I have positively described elsewhere as a “robotic Motown stomp,” is alone in its aural universe; there’s really no other song like it. “Halo” is obviously one of millions of ballads, but Beyonce’s singing on that one sorta makes me cry.

–Big Boi feat. Gucci Mane: “Shine Blockas”

This is probably the most refreshing hip hop song of the year. Seriously, I was attentive to everything that came out. In the classics we had Ghostface, Mos Def and Raekwon. Commercial faves like Jay-Z, 50 Cent and to a much lesser extent Fabolous all released albums. There was a come back from Eminem. Clipse finally released their third album the other day. But you know somefink? Though some of that stuff was good, none of it was really new. (Although Clipse’s pandering to commercial hip hop was new, but that’s for another blog post.) Big Boi picked up hot-on-the-streets-today Gucci Mane and made a song that embodies a warm, breezy Georgia day, with slightly nostalgic and thankfully un-2009 instrumentation, and made an unassuming track that sounds like it’s been here for a while but will stick around forever.

–Most the-Dream songs, notably “Rockin’ That Thang,” “Walkin’ on the Moon,” even his collab with Fabo on “Throw It In the Bag,” and his production on Electrik Red’s album.

I object to the idea that most pop is “the set-it-and-forget-it trend of auto-tuned to death vocals over recycled beats and increasingly boring sampled material.” The-Dream and his buddy Tricky Stewart guarantee that a lot of the music on the radio sounds interesting. The warm, human option in a radioverse of T-Pain’s playful robotics, the-Dream is very like a chubby cherubim with a bewitchingly lovely voice. He also knows his way around the studio, channeling MJ on “Walkin’ on the Moon,” Prince on the Electrik Red song “Friend Lover,” R Kelly every which way, including a persona favorite, Electrik Red’s song “Freaky Freaky.” He’s not copping these masters, though, he’s paying a dutiful tribute while adding his own shit: speeding up the songs and adding like 16 tracks of bleeps, bops, strings, space sounds, etc: there’s literally never a dull moment on one of his songs. Pitchfork identified his style as rococo; indeed, the-Dreams interior design equivalent is probably this room. Did I mention the-Dream co-wrote “Umbrella” and “Single Ladies”? And that he is younger than you and me? ! ! !

–Ghostface: “Do Over”

Turns out Ghostdini didn’t have the lasting power I’d hoped for. Many long-time fans complained that Ghost didn’t bring it on this album as he had on his soul songs elsewhere. But I still think this song is a success.

–Pet Shop Boys: “All Over the World”

Okay, this song is totally ridiculous. It sounds like it was produced in 1996 and features gruesomely tacky faux-strings playing a famous ditty from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.” But whatever! This song is totally exhilarating; every time I hear the chorus, I imagine the aging Pet Shop Boys standing on top of a mountain with their arms majestically stretched out to the sky. As the feverish 90s-British-gay-club bass pounds, we see the snow-capped peaks around the P.S. Boys, and the expanse of this colorful world unfolds before our eyes.

–Bassment Jaxx: “Scars” & “Raindrops”

Sasha Frere Jones helpfully pointed this out earlier in the year:

Two dance acts emerged around the turn of the century, both of which had the visas to pass between the worlds of pop and dance. One was Daft Punk and the other was Basement Jaxx. Especially since Basement Jaxx used actual human vocals and wove a wide range of references into their music, I thought they would reach more people, and for longer. Quite the opposite.

Daft Punk offered the nexus of studied unhumanity, the final solution of Kraftwerk’s menschmachine universe. And yeah, I think DP is more accessible than BJ, because even though BJ offer uplifting melodies, they are often hidden in an unintelligible chaos. DP makes a squeaky clean sound, even when they’ve got a shit ton of distortion on. Anyway, Bassment Jaxx is becoming a much more compelling group than DP–they’re a lot more prolific, and their emotional register is wide and varied. “Scars” is an auditory thesis in desperation and darkness. (This song also puts Kelis’ at-times gruff alto to much better use than her new single “Acapella.”) “Raindrops” is the opposite, the refreshing washing away of darkness, like the last drizzle before a rainbow appears! Yay.

–MSTRKRFT: “Heartbreaker”

You’re probably mad at me because I am including a bunch of dance music in my list, and most fans of dance/electro/whatevs wear skinny jeans. But alas, it’s technically a different genre. I know most MSTRKRFT songs consist of Justice-esque power-punching distortion, (their 2009 album is called Fist of God, for heaven’s sake), but this walk on the sensitive side plucks my heart-strings every time. The piano is simple but more emotionally effective than the catharsis-mongering of, say, Alicia Keys. The lyrics are rather basic: “I feel like crying/just want to die.” But the spirit is similar to the substance of Kanye’s 808s, and who hasn’t felt that desperate?

–Raekwon + Ghostface: “Cold Outside”

Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II is so dense that I haven’t absorbed more than half of it. But this song stuck out during my first listens; it’s all street-elegy, a pointed picture of what sucks about being poor, cold and stuck in the hood. Kids are smoking weed, mothers can’t afford diapers and no one can afford Newports at $7.50 a pack. Mariachi horns blare in and out of tune in an endless loop, sounding a bit like the undying cycle of human misery.

–Keri Hilson, Ne-yo, Kanye, “Knock You Down.”

Sure did love this song.

–Lady Gaga, “Bad Romance”

I had to acknowledge this one-woman phenomenon in some way, and it is by honoring her with a place on my playlist. “Bad Romance” has just the right amount of Gaga affectation; “Poker Face” was as static as the visage it describes; “LoveGame” featured a hook so obnoxious that it lulled you into a state of catatonic braindeath; “Paparazzi” was effectively creepy, but less because it’s about a stalker and more because it sounds uncannily like Gwen Stefani.  But the way she pronounces the word “romance” in this new single is brilliant: she slips in and out of a linguistic anachronism like she slips in and out of pop star cliches and robot outfits.  I am still embarrassed every time she says, “I’m a free bitch, baby,” but then again, no Gaga song is complete without something stupid like a “disco stick” popping up. Beside that, this song is pretty cool in a farty, thumping, idiotic sort of way.

–Jay-Z: “Thank You”

As previously mentioned, this song ain’t nothin new. But it suits Jigga to a ‘t’–I can just see him in his $4,000 suit, shimmying up his Italian silk tie, nonchalantly thanking all of us for providing him with riches. The marching horns on this track are a more effective testament to his old school New York cred than they are on “D.O.A.,” and, despite the questionable analogy about “9-11″ing his enemies, this song is a relaxed and enjoyable example of the rapper comfortably gazing down on us from his pedestal.

–Cam’ron: “I Hate My Job”

If there was a theme song for enduring a job during the recession, it’d be this one. Obviously being unemployed is miserable, but being locked into a job with a shitty commute, shitty boss, shitty hours, and shitty wages can be just as demeaning and dehumanizing. The piano loop sounds more like a Billy Joel rag or a Kermit the Frog sing-along than a track for the rapper of Purple Haze infamy, but I guess that just shows us that Cam’ron’s got the flexibility and wherewithal required to survive hard times.

–Clipse + Kanye: “Kinda Like a Big Deal.”

I listened to this song about 5 billion times this year, and I can’t remember what I ever liked about it. However, from an objective stand-point, this song features Kanye’s best verse of the year, and the guitars on this song are a much better way to rock in rap, as opposed to, say, Lil Wayne’s idea of how to rock in rap.

Weight of Womanly Ambition Makes Vampire Fantasies All the More Appealingly

I had assumed my new-found attachment to Twilight was special; I didn’t know I was part of a larger movement.

Check out this article about women who avoided the Twilight franchise at first, thinking they were totally above it, and then became obsessed when they dipped their toes in later.

A telling excerpt:

The people who have not read “Twilight” think they are astoundingly brilliant when they point out the misogynist strains of the series, like how Bella bypasses college in favor of love, like how Edward’s “romantic” tendencies include creepily sneaking into Bella’s house to watch her sleep, like how Bella’s only “flaw” is that she is clumsy, thereby necessitating frequent rescues by the men in her life, who swoop in with dazzling chisleyness and throw her over their shoulders.

In response: We know. We know… We wrote those arguments.

Ideological objections aside, I was prepared for shitty writing. Not to sound too high-minded, but I rarely even read contemporary literature, sticking to the comfort of the classics, so I knew I was in for some gagging. My sister told me she read the first 60 pages of Twilight and had to put it down, so clumsy and poor was the prose. I doubted I could make it through–but I am on page 300 and lovin’ it. I don’t even care that Meyer is the most inefficient writer of all time. As noted in the above-linked article, she uses three adjectives when she only needs one. An observation of my own is that roughly a tenth of the book is repetition of information. Meyer doesn’t even try to hide it. Many sentences go a bit like this: “Again, I was dazzled by his statuesque musculature,” or, “Again, my heart started racing when his Adonis-like figure approached me.” Her concept of detail and exposition is totally bogus, bogging down the narrative in absurdly wordy descriptions of walls in a high school (they featured student awards, really?) or the layout of a particular building (it had how many windows?). Really though, it hardly matters.

It’s easy to understand why one would dislike these books. Yet it sure is difficult to explain what we love so much about them. The books are so embarrassing to read, so obviously silly. The article notes that the books recall the fiery passion of being 17. Okay, agreed. But the article doesn’t offer why we need to feel like we are 17 again. As noted in my other observations about the movie New Moon, I think the Twilight series is so exciting because it allows an escape that we women often deny ourselves. Hold on, this particular theory is more elaborate than my last. The demographic specified in this article–bookish, wordly women in their 20’s and 30’s–are too busy these days to escape. We work, try to move up in the world, have serious pursuits, need to prove ourselves. One acceptable escape is via some fruity concoction on a Friday night; you know, girls’ night out, Sex and the City, all that. Or maybe we’ll get a massage, or watch Oprah to escape the exhausting ambition we carry around all day. But all the afore mentioned activities are still part of the modern gal narrative, whereas reading a romance novel is something quaint, a hobby for middle-aged women.  Maybe we read to escape at times, but it’s more likely that, to retain some respectability, we would flee to the mystery/thriller genre, not to harlequin romances with ripped bods/bodices on a glossy cover.

And maybe that’s why we’re overdoing it a bit: we are so unused to the ecstasy of escape offered in Twilight. One of the women in the article named all three of her dogs after some of the werewolves in the books. She also claims she’ll be naming her daughter after a character in the novels. (?!)

For now, though, I’ll be keeping my Twilight in the realm of fantasy…

Daftpop Reconsiders Killing the Internet

So, I signed on to myspace and searched for the songs for a playlist. Then I made the desired playlist in less than 3 minutes. Turns out, the myspace search is much, much better than the imeem search engine. Imeem search dregs enormous shit from its sewery depths and spews it all over your computer screen, all while pop-ups bombard your sense perception.

Maybe this change isn’t so bad after all.

Daftpop KILLS THE INTERNET

I HATE THE INTERNET!

Only this morning was I peacefully creating a playlist on imeem for the epic Hypocrite Listener v. Daftpop Playlist mega-beatdown 2009. But then just a moment ago I logged on to imeem in order to listen to some tunes, only to be REDIRECTED TO MYSPACE, a LOATHESOME UNINTUITIVE SOCIAL NETWORKING WEBSITE THAT I HAVE AVOIDED FOR YEARS!!!!!!!!

Here is what the screen told me:

imeem users, welcome to MySpace Music!

imeem is now part of MySpace Music.

Where’s my imeem profile/playlist?

MySpace is working to migrate your imeem playlist to MySpace Music. We’ll email you about that once we have more details.

FUCK YOU IMEEM!